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The trains that built America: Exploring the B&O Railroad Museum

Nearly 200 years of rail history at one of America's biggest train museums.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

There's a school of thought that railroads are one of the biggest reasons the United States is the country it is today. And if you trace train history back, it starts with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Begun in 1830, it would grow over the following decades, eventually becoming one of the largest railroads in the country. 

Though now part of huge CSX Transportation, B&O's history lives on at the B&O Railroad Museum in, not surprisingly, Baltimore. Housed in the massive and historic Mount Clare Shops roundhouse, there's nearly 200 years of rail history all in one place. 

From hulking steam-powered locomotives to streamlined art deco diesels, cabooses to coaches, there's a lot to see at this huge museum. During my 10,000-mile road trip, I stopped to have a look around. Here's what I saw.

Roundhouse

One of the most difficult aspects for any train museum is the sheer space required. After all, even a small train is still a train. Most often museums use utilitarian train sheds, basically big barns, to protect their aging exhibits from the weather. The B&O Railroad Museum is fortunate enough to use a historic roundhouse built in the earliest days of the B&O Railroad. Today this massive building is an absolute stunner, clad in brick and decidedly, well, round.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Inside, of course, are the real exhibits. Arrayed in a circle (or in the round, if you will) are beautifully maintained locomotives and railcars, including several that were in service during the Civil War. Outside there are a few more, including a diesel-electric that runs passengers on a short loop.

In a train shed adjacent to the roundhouse was my favorite locomotive at the museum, a streamlined locomotive called the Hudson. Despite its more modern looks, there's a fairly traditional steam engine underneath the gorgeous exterior.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Outside, next to the parking lot, is a different experience. Here you find a variety of engines and coaches, rusting and beaten down by decades of exposure to the weather. They're in stark contrast from the exquisitely restored and maintained vehicles inside. As with anything, time, money and space are all factors in what a museum can invest in and what must be put off. Hopefully, these too will eventually be brought back to their former glory. 

Baltimore to Ohio

The B&O Railroad Museum is easily one of the best railroad museums in the country, if not the world. Railroads were a fundamental part of the growth of the United States, and nearly 200 years of that history is on display here. 

If you're not near Baltimore, or headed that way, check out the gallery above for a close look at many of these incredible, historic machines.


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.